In California, Governor Newsom recently introduced the CARE Act, which stands for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment Act.
The bill is described here:
“People living with a serious, untreated mental illness could be referred for a court-ordered care plan that would, after psychiatric screenings, last up to two years. The court intervention could be initiated by a family member, county behavioral health workers or even first responders. If the care plan fails, the person could be hospitalized or referred to a conservatorship. That might mean forced treatment and a stripping of individual rights.” This quote is taken from an article, which can be found here (1).
The bill cleared unanimously through the Senate in May and is expected to reach the governor’s desk by this fall.
In this blog, I am responding to this proposed legislation based on my own experience. I have an informed perspective that is not tied to any party affiliation.
My own experience
Sometimes, when I reflect on my life, I think about the right I had to live as a homeless person, sleeping in a churchyard, surviving on garbage I scavenged to eat. For thirteen months. I was a dirty homeless person living outside. I had lost weight due to the illness. Despite my terrible situation, I did nothing to change my life.
Due to the symptoms of my brain disorder, including delusions (fixed, false beliefs) and hallucinations, even a very low-stress job was impossible. I think it is probable that many people who saw me living outside assumed I was lazy and/or a drug addict. In fact, I was neither. During the entire course of my life, I have never touched alcohol or drugs. And, while in college, I had once taken classes full time while also working nearly full time as well.
The surprising thing, when I look at my history, is how manic episodes altered the course of my life. At first, during manic episodes, I would often work from the afternoon through the early hours of the morning, and I could not stop working. It is ironic that mania soon transitioned me from working too much, into symptoms that left me unable to work at all.
But while onlookers may have seen me living outside, and perhaps judged me, and questioned why I could not work, I wonder if anyone ever thought about what should be done to help me build a new life.
For me, being offered housing would not be enough.
Twenty years ago, when I lost my university apartment and was too paranoid of friends and family to ask for help, I was offered free housing. A friend of mine had relatives living in New Mexico and paid for my flight from Los Angeles to live with them. I was given a beautiful suite with a bath. I was not obligated to pay rent. The family happened to be Chinese, and since I had studied some spoken Chinese while visiting China, had I been well, I would have been delighted to stay and to learn more of the language from them. They also provided free food, much of it homemade. It was the perfect situation for me.
However, after about a week, I became restless, and I asked to be flown back to Los Angeles, where I remained homeless and resumed sleeping in a library every night.
To this day, I do not know why my symptoms of schizophrenia led me to prefer a homeless life. I could not tolerate living normally in housing and off the streets until later when I began medication to treat my schizophrenia.
Finally receiving treatment
March 3, 2007 police finally took me involuntarily for evaluation in a psychiatric unit of a Los Angeles hospital. Being told I had a mental illness was embarrassing, and I believed it was not true. However, diagnosis led to treatment. Finding the right medication took a very difficult twelve months, but in early 2008, I achieved full recovery. I returned to college in 2009, graduated with high honor in 2011, and today I both work and run a schizophrenia advocacy nonprofit with a well-known psychiatrist. This was never supposed to be possible.
Reflections on the CARE Act
When considering the CARE Act, I think it is so important to give struggling people as much autonomy as possible, including those who choose to be homeless as I did. I want people to make their own choices and never to be stripped of their rights as human beings. However, had I not been picked up by police that March 3rd sixteen years ago, I seriously wonder if I would still be homeless, living on the streets, surviving outside with severe and untreated schizophrenia.
The CARE Act will not apply to every person living on the streets, but I hope it will help, as Governor Newsom says, “Folks that just simply can’t help themselves.”
Had the CARE Act been in place sixteen years ago, might I have received life-changing treatment sooner?
For me, being on medication was a choice I would never have made on my own. But after a few months on medication, I became grateful for treatment, and resolved to always take the pills. I will for the rest of my life, as I have been relieved of confusion and great suffering. I am grateful for my recovery and quiet mind every day.
I am grateful for the police who took me off the streets and to the hospital, where I would be diagnosed, find hope, and a begin a healthy new life.
1. Garrova, Robert. CARE Court Aims To Help People Living With Serious Mental Illnesses. Would It Bring New Solutions Or More Problems? Retrieved December 1, 2023. https://laist.com/news/health/care-court-aims-to-help-people-living-with-serious-mental-illnesses-would-it-bring-new-solutions-or-more-problems?fbclid=IwAR3VjTAUWwcMCntHYZ14dcT3jFkX-AMGfeJ4L7StqW9YHX53LehSz8xIVLE